After over a year of planning and anticipation, the final morning of camp seemed to arrive all too soon. Yet, though the week had flown by with breakneck speed, we’d certainly made the most of it; in spite of rain, mosquitoes and early starts, it had been a packed four days of art, science and agriculture. Today, we would be displaying the week’s efforts in a culminating celebration, inviting the campers’ families out to the farm to join us for a strolling gallery show on the trails.
That Friday, there was no hushed morning studio session, no slow process of waking up in the cool shadows of the Pasture Barn. We had a full day planned, with lots to create and prepare before the afternoon’s exhibition. Our young artists reported straight to the trail that loops around the pastures, selecting patches of earth that spoke to them and getting to work on their Andy Goldsworthy-inspired natural sculptures.
These sculptures, or “earthworks,” are both made from and nested within natural spaces, and after being captured in a few photos they are left to the forces of entropy, claimed by weather and decay and time. Goldsworthy likes to bend his foraged materials to precise geometric forms, simultaneously asserting a meticulous human sensibility of control and submitting to the inevitable law of ephemerality as he leaves his work to dissolve back into the landscape it rose from. There’s an ethos and a poetry there that we wanted to share with our young campers, as throughout the week we wove between themes of art, scientific inquiry, the craft of farming, and—a common thread throughout them all—conservation.
Each of the campers’ sculptures reflected their own take on the project—each was unique, looking like neither Goldsworthy’s work nor each other’s. Naia focused on her favorite Michigan wildflowers, Queen Anne’s Lace and the dark, seedy crimson heads of curly dock. Zaina integrated both living and dead plants into a sculpture steeped in quiet symbolism, while Taylor ingeniously engineered an assemblage of rocks and worn, fallen branches into a graceful tower taller than she is. Meanwhile, Carlie had been eyeing the spare rolls of wire fencing that hung about the pastures all week; with some help from her friends, she wrestled one of them to her chosen site, then fearlessly set to felling a dead sapling that caught her fancy. Art is an unstoppable force, and Carlie was bent on taking mixed media to the next level!
Ben fetched Carlie and accomplices a saw to ease the process, while Jen, Amanda and Naomi each kept an eye on the nearest camper while cheerfully assembling our own sculptures to fill out the long trailside. When each petal, twig and stone was placed to everyone’s satisfaction, Jen and the campers filed back into the barn to add the finishing touches to the week’s two-dimensional works. The young artists learned to matte their masterpieces, and began to arrange them on easels and fenceposts along the trail.
In the meantime, Ben continued to zip about heroically on his golf cart, lending a hand (or staple gun, as the case may be) wherever needed. Amanda and Naomi reported to the garden to harvest snacks for the afternoon’s “reception”—basil, cucumbers, carrots, beets, spicy nasturtium flowers, and an improvised twist on fruit salad that included ground cherries, currants, raspberries (both wild and cultivated) and purslane, a garden weed with crisp, succulent little leaves and a mildly tart flavor. Simple and seasonal!
Around 3 o’clock, the campers’ families trickled in for the festivities. We all walked the trail together, admiring each work of art in turn, as each camper presented her vision, process, and handwritten artist statement. Though they’d all received the same instruction from Jen, and observed & drawn upon the same landscapes, specimens and subjects for their work, each had emerged as different artists, with their own perspectives and distinct styles that became clear as we moved through the “gallery.”
Afterward, everyone converged on the Pasture Barn patio, while Amanda and Naomi made a hasty second round of the trail, collecting everyone’s work to send home with them. The campers lingered in the last moments of that special, short-lived summer-camp atmosphere that we’d all built together throughout the week– then, as is the inevitable way of things, they each in turn packed into their parents’ cars and left, with hugs and thanks and eager waves, and—best of all—promises to come back next year.
As the trees begin to turn, and the nights grow cold, we’re already looking forward to it! A big thanks to Jen Koppin, artist, scientist, and teacher extraordinaire, for making our first Eco Art & Science Camp a success. Next year will be even bigger and better!